Five Things the Final Fantasy VII Remake Could Use

final-fantasy-vii-remake

Eighteen years have passed since the release of the original Final Fantasy VII, and a whole new generation of gamers are ready to explore this fantastic world for the first time. For the gaming industry, Square-Enix has effectively reached the status of Disney. They really don’t have to truly innovate anymore as they could probably get by through updating, remaking and re-releasing their golden age classics.

There are plenty of other wishlists for the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake, but this article covers some content elements. Many of the other articles have been more obvious. New soundtracks! Better graphics! As though Square-Enix is expected to release a remake with MIDI music and character models that use a jaw dropping 17 polygons.

Rather, these recommendations are more about expanding the core gameplay. Questions regarding the combat system and faithfulness to the story have yet to be answered. So rather, these suggestions work against what has been established from the original game.

airshipFull Exploration of Midgar and the Ocean

Traveling the world and beyond is a common hallmark of the Final Fantasy series. Since game one, travel by land, sea and air were long established. The fourth game sent the main characters to the moon.

Yet after the release of Final Fantasy VII, it was heavily rumored that there were large swathes of the map left on the cutting room floor.

No one can really blame then Squaresoft for the decision. The game was fairly massive to begin with, so it really wasn’t a surprise to anyone that about five sectors of Midgar didn’t make the final product. Likewise, when AVALANCHE finally commandeers the ShinRa sub, they can only use it to explore the inner ocean between the three major continents. There’s a whole outer ocean just begging to be explored. And perhaps out there, a slight change to the story will allow us to…

Fight the Sapphire WEAPON

When Final Fantasy VII came to the United States, Squaresoft decided to add two new bosses the Japanese audiences didn’t receive until later. These were the powerful Emerald and Ruby WEAPONS, and defeating them is a brag-worthy achievement to this day.

Sapphire_Weapon_FMVBut among the original series of WEAPON bosses was one that the plot never allowed us to fight; the Sapphire WEAPON. It would require a slight alteration to events to permit this battle, but why not let players complete their trophy collection?

Say that the Sapphire WEAPON was injured instead of destroyed and forced to retreat, allowing Cloud and company to hunt him later. Perhaps that could lead to a fourth Limit Break for Cait Sith. Wait, Cait Sith has only two Limit Breaks? Well then…

A Full Set of Limit Breaks for Cait Sith

Cait Sith is best described as a divisive character, story wise. Some people liked him, some didn’t. But in terms of play-ability and use in combat, there’s definite room for improvement.

Every other character besides shape-shifting Vincent possessed a total of seven Limit Breaks, the powerful attacks each party member can execute after absorbing enough damage. Most characters divided these attacks into four levels. The first tier of any level was earned by having the party member slay 80 foes, while the second tier of a level was earned by using the first tier 10 times. The fourth level was unique and specially earned by discovery. This added incentive to swap characters to obtain all their abilities.

CaitSith-FFVIIArtBut Cait Sith was different. As the game’s resident gambler, he possessed only two Limit Breaks; a dice based attack he starts with and the random slots. Thus there just wasn’t much to earn with him once the second skill had been achieved.

Gambling and gaming wise, there are plenty of themes to choose from. Roulette boards, poker, darts and billiards, maybe some kind of Black Jack game where every hit results in “card” that hopefully adds up to 21 unless the player chooses to stay while a bust hurts him. There’s more fun to be had with Cait Sith!

Furthermore, one of the slot “attacks” actually resulted in an automatic game over. Maybe instead, how about a horde of status effects against the whole party? Automatically losing seems too harsh, especially if the player hasn’t saved recently.

Allow Swapping the Main Character During Travel

Above, incentive to swap characters was mentioned. While the importance of Cloud to the plot is understood, one wonders why he can’t sit out a bit more during the more mundane segments of the game. Why not let Barrett lead when the player is just leveling in the Junon area? Or let Aeris or Tifa catch the chocobo? When approaching a location that requires Cloud, they can just force him to join the party.

If Square-Enix even goes so far as to add quips and rib poking between their characters during combat, the reason to do this grows even larger, allowing for interesting relationship building and stronger dynamics.

More Time with “That Character”

In early 1997, the world’s most public spoiler involved a man armored in black telling a maimed fellow, “I am your father.”

The second most public spoiler involved the death of a certain character in Final Fantasy VII.  Amusingly, before the game was even released state-side, a rumor sprouted that the Japanese version would allow for (paraphrased) “the resurrection of a party member who dies,” while the United States version would not. This proved false, and the person leading the petition even apologized for the mistake.

Midgar

As mentioned before, a new generation of gamers has grown since the release of the original, so it’s worth trying to preserve the spoilers even after so long. But even in the first edition, the time the player had with this character was fairly short. Usually, the player achieves the departed’s ultimate weapon and Limit Break just before the events of their demise.

Attempting to undo the death of this character risks a great deal of the plot falling apart. So rather, it would seem fair to ask for a few events to slow down and strengthen an already strong emotional connection. It just seems a gentler way for veterans who are already used to the loss to better accept it.

I Am The Television

Note: I was just informed that there is a blog by the name of “The Televisionary.” I did not know this during my cheeky title creation, but out of respect, I have changed the name of this post.

My backlog of unfinished television continues to grow.

At the moment, I’m still half way through the latest seasons of both Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful. I don’t think I’ve watched a single episode for almost two months now. The last seven episodes of Mad Men also goes untouched. I’m still waiting on Netflix releases for the sixth season of The League and the second season of The 100 although I really want to read the books too. I’m currently surfing through the fourth season of The Wire. And despite interest, I’ve yet to really go past the first season of Orphan Black.

AA_orphanblack_thumbnail_s2_02_webYou know, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Orphan Black before. The barely science fiction show focuses on a bunch of clones who have grown up separately from one another, but discover each other and conspire to evade the organization that created them. Clones are one of those “forgotten” tropes of science fiction that the showrunners have picked up, dusted off and made fresh again.

Tatiana Maslany who plays main clone Sarah Manning and the rest of her “sisters” does an absolutely stellar job of wearing characters in a diverse manner. She never gets old, never slips and never fails to convince the audience that despite having the same face, these are all different people. It’s a remarkable performance from just one actress.

Nor am I inclined to get a break from the onslaught of watchable television anytime soon. Marvel’s Jessica Jones is due out sometime this year. And most exciting of all has to be the fact that Jon Bernthal has joined the cast of the second season of Daredevil as one of my favorite characters. Frank Castle, better known as the Punisher.

Three times, three times various studios have tried and failed to execute a movie starring the famed vigilante. Once in 1989 with Dolph Lundgren, again with some success in 2004 with Thomas Jane, and the last in 2008 with Ray Stevenson. Inexplicably, no one could seem to nail the formula down for one of the few major characters in Marvel’s franchise that doesn’t even have any superpowers. No powered armor, no gamma radiation transformations, no healing powers. Just a former marine with the connections, patience and iron will to walk the walk with the worst criminal elements of the underworld.

Untold_Tales_of_Punisher_MAX_Vol_1_4_TextlessPerhaps Castle’s biggest attraction is that while every other characters in Marvel’s line up covers the cheeky and fun, the light and morally sunny, the Punisher sticks to his grimdark corner. His unyielding, stark ethos and calm acceptance of killing constantly putting him at odds with almost every other character. It’s against Castle that every hero’s ethics are measured.

One thing that may have made Frank Castle so hard to portray on the screen is his age. His best representation was in Garth Ennis’ PunisherMAX prints, which stayed true to the source material and kept Castle as a Vietnam veteran. While other Marvel heroes have found ways to retool and restructure their origins from more recent conflicts, to do so with Frank would risk leaving some of his best and most inspired stories behind because of their connection to that desperate war.

Perhaps they’ll try having Nick Fury provide Castle with the Infinity Formula, which prolongs life and solves this issue. While PunisherMAX segregated Castle to his own backyard and away from the greater community, it did establish and maintain a working relationship between the two men. Even in Ennis’ work, there is a premise for the possibility.

To my knowledge, Ennis’ work has yet to be referenced in the current MCU. But when Ennis left the Punisher to work on a new series, Jason Aaron picked up the pen to write a continuation. The first of Aaron’s PunisherMAX collections crafted an origin story for the Kingpin, which seemed a strong inspiration for Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in Daredevil’s first season. If the PunisherMAX prints are influencing their work, Marvel undoubtedly faces the incredibly difficult choice of whether to tap Ennis’ amazing stories for Daredevil or save such tales for later, should the Punisher’s popularity finally prove enough to merit his own series.

Being Productive

details of the electronic circuit tracks on a printed circuit board, once of 20 images on our

So I think I mentioned before how my desktop’s motherboard died a few weeks ago. The ASUS P5N-D I had was seven years old, and I enjoyed it through some great times in gaming and writing. It comes as a shock when I realize that this board is older than several of my relationships with friends. The part just endured time that well.

Part of the reason for this was the console wars. The PlayStation3 and XBox 360 reigned for an extended era, so games released for both consoles and PCs retained those lower performance expectations. It used to be that every three or four years, a fresh product-race would spike performance demands across the board.

But the recent cycle was almost twice that, which in turn kept the ever-rising requirements in check to the consumer’s benefit. And while games were peaking just over what the P5N-D could perform, I still had several independently released titles and older releases that didn’t need as much power.

Still, a broken motherboard isn’t something you can duct tape. As I laid the P5N-D to rest with honors, I installed a fresh ASUS M5A97 with an AMD FX-8350 8-Core processor, but planned to update my aging nVidia GeForce GT 8800 (512 MB) graphic card later. I chose these parts on the recommendation of a friend combined with thousands of very strong reviews. It isn’t the most cutting edge gear, but the hidden joy of something being out for a while is the market-tested reliability, hordes of troubleshooting FAQs and recorded incidents to help guide me through any problems.

And problems there were. I kept getting the BSoD (blue screen of death) randomly after installation. It turned out the latest chipset drivers (the software that helps the hardware communicate with other parts) was poorly written, so I followed a guide to remove the original drivers and install an older but more stable version. I left it running overnight so Windows could run its updates and I intended to test the performance of the machine tonight with 30 to 60 minutes of Gauntlet.

I haven’t finished the assembly either. During installation, I ran into a hardware issue. My older hard drive had an IDE port only. The motherboard supported SATA only. I ordered an adapter to fix that, but in the mean time I reinstalled Windows on my newer hard drive (which never had much to begin with) to handle the changes.

I’m fairly confident that my saved games of Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas are on the older hard drive. In fact, I know one of them is. But if I’m wrong it will be a painful lesson about backing up one’s data…

Besides testing the new PC, I loaded up my night with a long to-do list of chores and tasks to be finished. And guess what? Writing isn’t really on there. This might alarm other writers who absolutely cling to a “X,XXX number of words each day” approach, which I admit is a solid discipline.

But the problem is that it doesn’t always allow one to easily balance other things in their lives. On a regular weekday, 8 hours a day are sunk into the day job, 2 hours on travel, 1 hour on food prep and consuming with an additional hour on clean up. 1 hour on personal preparation (you know, showers…) with another 7 on sleep. The occasional out-of-the-house chores like the groceries or CVS take 1 to 2 hours.

That leaves anywhere from 2 to 4 hours of time for the hordes of miscellaneous issues like keeping in touch with mom and friends, handling emails from business partners, researching marketing/business opportunities and the occasional gaming, reading or television to unwind or another hour for the gym (when I go.)

If you ask me, it makes more sense to just spend those spare hours taking care of the chores that would interrupt an otherwise great chunk of writing time. I suspect that it’s more efficient too. The constant stop-and-go approach feels like it promotes more errors and loss of focus. And when proofing, it could be the difference between simply noticing a missing word or improper punctuation, and rewriting entire paragraphs because of poor phrasing. I should probably do a test: 3,000 words in one session, and three sessions of 1,000 words, and gauge how much easier the editing goes.

Emby Press: Big Sale & Rewards Program

Emby-Orange_clipped_rev_1-300x300Big news!

Emby Press is having a sale today for all their titles. This includes the works of Josh Reynolds, Thom Brannan and a recent anthology which includes the works of A.R. Aston, Jonathan Ward and yours truly. If you’re a Kindler, you can get several great titles for dirt cheap. And yeah, this includes Reynold’s awesome Royal Occultist series.

But that’s not all.

If you deliver two reviews on Amazon or Barnes & Noble of their releases, Emby Press will reward you with a free ebook of your choice.

There are some great new releases coming out shortly too, so if you get two books for these lowered prices, you can do the reviews and ask about the upcoming DoomsdayDark Monocle and Occult Detective Vol. II.

So check it out today. Because this sale won’t last forever! 

Let the ConPuns Begin

It’s Tuesday after a rough, sick Monday. Some kind of summer fever struck. Ibuprofen handled it just fine, as did a nap. But I still lost half a day of work I’m going to try catching up on this week.

Over this weekend, I’ve been gathering information about conventions within traveling distance for sales purposes. These conventions go on all the time, but they vary just enough from theme to theme that it’s not always easy to identify which are the right ones to attend. There’s some flexibility. Literary, science fiction and fantasy genre conventions are usually ideal. Yet some want more established and respected works from verified producers. Other conventions sometimes target more specific mediums, such as comic books.

spartaOthers can oddly get both specific and yet varied, such as SpartaCon which focuses on warrior culture both fictional and non-fictional. While some draws include shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Spartacus, I’ve read through sources that it can also host historical reenactments and health and fitness coaching like CrossFit, attracting folks who truly want to live the warrior lifestyle. It’s rather badass when a person’s “cosplay” requires 7/24/365 work to earn. Although I don’t joke when I say my body isn’t ready.

I’m also aware that some of these conventions are going to have more barriers to entry. Some openly do not accept self-published authors, while others will probably push them down the acceptance lists for regular publishers. There are pros and cons to these.

Other times, it’s just the sheer number of competitors. George R.R. Martin will be attending MystiCon this coming February, undoubtedly drawing in the fans. This was probably a factor in the closing of their vendor applications despite six months left to go. Still, while this is interesting to know for later, I don’t worry about it too much. Instead, I aim for smaller conventions to get my feet wet. I’d rather the chance to be a bit more personable anyway.

As I padded my list of potential convention to visit, an idea come to me. Why not a coalition program to support various other small press publishers at the vendor tables, with the agreement they repay in kind? Fact is, I’m in a strange limbo place with a few stories published under one imprint, a few more under another and so on.

And even if I were to start my own book company in the next year, we wouldn’t have any titles for almost six months and probably couldn’t fill the table with only our own releases for another year or two after that. Diversity mitigates risk after all. I’ll probably stew on this and throw it into the next “Open Source Thinking” post I’m cooking up.

Anyway, right now my intention is to try and hit at least one convention as a member by the end of the year to get more comfortable. Listen to the authors and watch how they work the crowd, pay attention to the most effective strategies in the vending rooms and probably pick up a fresh book or two. Got to support your industry now.

Friday Fun, Copyright & Bibliography

Saint PaulMy last post resulted in a pretty substantial impact. I’ll probably do another one or two on the same topic later, focusing around the technologies publishing companies can use to make their lives easier and marketing theories to help drive sales… maybe even one around public relations work or building a quality product. Likely in that order too.

I know that this knowledge is not as sexy as authors want to read, but this stuff is important for figuring out the bottlenecks. If anyone wants to write, they have to know the business.

Anyway, back to my more generic rantings.

While walking to the day job this morning, I finally had an idea for a story due in 20 days. Rather than devise something totally 100% new, it’s actually another tale set in the same universe in a story I innovated, soon to be released from a different publisher. I think press companies tend to enjoy linking stories like that, because they can redirect some sales from another title their way, thus cross-pollinating their readerships pools.

Frequently, writers coming from a fan fiction background get a little confused about this practice; fan fiction means you’re writing something that is not your original intellectual property, and unless it’s public domain or the creator gives selective rights (see Slender Man’s copyright status for an example, or Kindle Worlds) you need the permission of the owner to publish anything under their franchise. But if your creation is wholly original, it’s yours. You’re the owner. And you can take it to whichever and whatever publisher you want (who is then free to reject it.)

Digression: I just noticed The 100 is on Kindle Worlds list of properties. Now that’s something I might actually consider crafting a story for. The show is great and I need to read the original trilogy by Kass Morgan.

Anyway, this revelation leaves me with one story ready to write, two that need the synopses nailed down and one in need of inspiration. As much as I want to go home and tackle this queue to the ground, my day job calls and I have family/future family visiting this weekend.

One has to keep creating new work to grow the authorial resume. Typically, my bibliography only gets updated once a general agreement or contract has been signed. At which point, the awaited literature finds its place under the “Publications Coming Soon” section. There is more work brewing out there. But until I have at least a confirmation of acceptance, I never mention it specifically.

SadkoI picked up the idea of tracking my own bibliography from Josh Reynolds, a professional author I respect. I did an interview with him sometime back for the Bolthole, when he pointed to his own scoreboard. It’s interesting to see the growth. In 2003, he published three short stories. Same in 2004, but in ’05 and ’06, he doubled that. Afterwards, ’07 was an accomplished year for him, with over a dozen short stories and his first listed novel. He’s been a busy guy ever since.

Some struggling writers might feel down after seeing a resume like that. But if you’re one of them, ask yourself, “Have I been at it for 12 years?”

I bet the answer is no. I might want to reorganize my bibliography by release dates myself to keep tabs on my record.

However, that reminds me. This blog. The talk about starting my own publisher and/or my own site has made me consider whether or not to keep it. Originally I was going to polish and transform it into a more official looking site, but its roots as a fan blog kept bothering me. Yet He2etic’s Hysterical Horoscope has been around for four years and has over 300 blog posts. That’s a long time to just walk away from.

Open Source Thinking: Author Pay Rates

The Good Fight

Super Hero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight from Emby Press is now available in print as well as for Kindle. Check it out for several amazing stories by yours truly and many other great authors! It’s the start of something big.

So in light of the post yesterday, I’ve been thinking some about how much we would be paying our authors for their work. But I’ve been thinking more and more about the slog to earn our stripes as a professional publishing company.

As I’ve noted before, being a professional author is harder than ever. And the joy and joke is that publishers need to pay off their starting cost debts and return to black on top of the need for authors to get paid. Granted, the debt isn’t much to surmount and people often supplement themselves with another career.

But let’s do some quick math here. E-books typically sell for either 35% or 70% royalties. Some may rush to point out the changes to Amazon’s royalties, but I would counter that it only applies to Kindle Unlimited and Lending Library. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the listed price is $5. Thus, at best we’re earning $3.50 and at worst, $1.75, and none of this includes printed royalties.

On the costs side, let’s focus strictly on what we’re paying the authors. In the past, the anthologies we’ve released have used pure profit sharing. This “nonprofit” (no entity keeps the money, just the creators) approach gave authors incentive to keep pushing the book after the release, and we had no real start up costs to worry about— we used the “free” ISBN from Amazon, and everything worked via a private contract rather than officially starting a company. There was no reason to preserve income because the project was never in the red.

This time around, we would have a minor debt to pay off and need additional capital to grow.

If you’re not willing to pay your authors what they’re worth, someone else will.

The usual approach for small press publishers is to compensate authors with token payments, exposure and a free copy of the book. Overall, not a bad package in lieu of professional pay for a fledgling writer. Let’s say that a publisher pays its authors $15 per a short story. A twelve story anthology costs $180 for the authors alone. And this doesn’t include cover art or editing (for which the business owners will probably be responsible.) If the sales are fifty-fifty on the 70% versus 35% royalty rates, that’s around $2.62 per sold copy.

That means to cover the authors alone, the book has to sell 69 copies. If you optimistically sell just 70% royalty stories, you can actually earn that cost back in 48 sold copies. If just the 35% rate, 103 copies.

So that is the most basic model. Lower the price of the book and you’ll have to increase sales. It also doesn’t cover the cost of the cover art, which one can technically do if they use a public domain image (possibly acceptable) or no cover (not recommended.)

Now here’s the secret about artists. The average price of cover art is roughly $500. This is a stiff price to beat in the sales, but there’s actually some economic flexibility if people don’t mind paying for the difference in time.

DenariusExplained, a professional artist might have a back list of interested clients willing to pay $500 or more around the clock during the best of times. But on occasion, there maybe a lull in the number of demanding jobs, during which time it makes sense for an artist to take a lesser paying job as long as there is a very distant deadline and a patient customer.

So if you go to an artist and ask them, “I have a limited budget for this, but I’m also in no rush. Can we work out a lesser rate with expected delivery in 9 months? I understand if higher priority jobs come along in the mean time.”

And chances are, you can probably work something out depending on the artist’s schedule and professional philosophy. It helps if the artist is interested in the work you’re doing, because their muse needs inspiration too. But if you go rushing to them, exclaiming that you need this image and you need it now, now, now… well, have five Franklins ready at the very least. Because exposure doesn’t fill the pantry.

Which brings us back to the original point. Yeah, cover art will add more to the cost although as I said, there maybe room for some flexibility on that. Yet here’s what I suspect a lot of small press companies face: costs (should) inevitably grow.

Why are they growing? Well, the biggest reason would be author pay rates. If you find a good author who is willing to work for $15 a pop, they’ll probably be ecstatic to be published for the very first time. After a few more stories, they’ll start to wonder if maybe they could earn a bit more, so they start searching. Are their short stories worth $25? Yes, so what about $50? Sometimes? Can they get 1 cent a word? 2 cents? Always hunting for that professional rate of 5 cents a word.

At a 5,000 words pay cap at 5 cents a word, that same twelve story anthology suddenly costs $3,000. Chances are, that cover artist cut you a deal before because you were a small company. But if the authors are earning that kind of money, then the artist will probably want the average professional rate of $500. That means a game of professional ball costs you a minimum of $3,500. And there are bound to be additional costs I haven’t factored into the equation.

If you’re not willing to pay your authors what they’re worth, someone else will. If your readership base isn’t large enough to support higher rates, then your writers will start seeking a company who pays better and has a larger audience. If you’re not paying attention to the market, it’ll kick your ass.

A blog post I once read mentioned that large publishing companies seldom cultivate writers anymore. It took me less than a minute to realize why; major publishers really don’t need to, not when you have hundreds of small companies willing to gold pan for them. Even if the little guys don’t realize it until they back a winner who brings in the readers… and then gets poached.

It’s a ceiling that stops many small press companies. And something every publisher has to bust through to join the major leagues.